Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Milestone

Can you guess?

No, Organique's been walking for a month.

No one's learned to read lately.

I'm not sure you want to know... But here's the story anyway.

This weekend was the last on-call weekend of the summer for Hubby. He didn't expect any calls, and I'm tired of buying chicken feed. Do you see where this is going? No? Okay, keep reading. We decided that we should try to harvest a few of these birds on Saturday, so we made plans. I had a new homeschooling friend interested in the process (I know, I'm amazed too!), and had requested an invitation to come watch. Of course, I immediately agreed, likeminded folk being hard to find these days. So I arranged with her that we'd be doing it Saturday morning.

Hubby worked a bit late Friday, so we were delayed in our setting up. Then, there were a few hiccups (as always) as we tried to find where the wind blew the 55-gallon drum we use as a chill tank, and how to set up the stainless steel "countertop" (yes, we've graduated from the bullet-shot fridge) we wanted to use. It was cool, windy, and spitting rain occasionally, so halfway through setup, I moved everything into our mostly-destroyed greenhouse for a bit of shelter.

Also right about then Hubby got a service call. And then another.


"You're leaving...?" I asked, knowing full well he had to. "But..., who's gonna kill these chickens?" I can't back out... I have an audience on the way!


I kissed him goodbye, and checked the scalding water temp. My friend was bringing most of her kids and a few she was watching. Gi-gi was visiting, and planning to watch Organique while I eviscerated the birds. Gi-gi's whole childhood was spent plotting how to get off the daggum farm, and she doesn't care to eviscerate chickens. Not that I would ever ask her to. Apparently, though, killing them poses no issue.

I was saved. Whew.

My friend arrived, with six kids in tow, and I wondered how this would all work out. I still had to hunt up some buckets and some details in the appropriate literature. Eventually we went out to the chicken house, where I set Big Sister to catching a big rooster. She did, in short order, and we stuck him in the garden cart with a board for a lid.
I let each of the kids take turns catching birds, and it was hilarious. I might start charging admission. "Chicken Wrastlin', 25 cents." It could be the new Rodeo. We eventually filled the garden cart, and hauled it to the torn-open end of the greenhouse (which, by the way, is in full [if not terribly near] view of the Fancy Neighbors. Poor folks.). Organique went down for her nap, and Gi-gi came out to do the deed.

It didn't take me long to decide I didn't like the way the deed was done. Of course, the last time she'd done it was somewhere around 1934, so I don't hold it against her. I did, however, retrieve the axe and block in short order, and.... I finished it. *shudder* I should clarify that the chickens didn't seem to be in pain, but they also didn't seem to be dying very quickly. I only support quick deaths, unless the critter deserves it, and ... nevermind. I took the second in-the-process rooster and finished him as well.

Oh my goodness, even typing this just makes me all twitchy.

Gi-gi took them and laid them on the ground a ways away, and my friend remarked to her daughter to be careful, because she remembered headless flopping chickens uncannily flopping after people as they ran from them. As if on cue, a headless bird flopped her direction, and in spite of her best efforts to evade it, it leaped up and smeared blood all over her calf and the cuff of her capri pants.

While she might've gone home and stood in a hot shower for three hours and sobbed, she showed remarkable sportsmanship on site. I've never even imagined a ten-year-old girl showing such grace when faced with the trial that is a blood-squirting, headless, flopping chicken carcass.

By now, though, my scalding water was 50 degrees too hot, so I added a few more gallons of cold water to compensate, and began scalding the birds. From here on out, I know the ropes (more or less). Of course, the phone in my coat pocket rang, and I dunked birds with one hand while fielding an offer of yard signs and bumper stickers from the wife of the Sheriff candidate we're voting for with the other. I didn't tell her what I was busy with. She might've declined our endorsement after all.

Does he seem to be having too much fun?

I picked one bird, and three or four kids half-picked the other. They were very interested in the entrails, at which point I was happy to play biology teacher.

Would you believe, the two older boys (pre-teen or so) took the chicken heads home as souvenirs? I suppose you would, if you had boys. I don't. Weird creatures, those. But their mom complied, as only a true homeschooling mom could. I did offer ziplocs, feeling pity for the presumably nice interior of their big SUV. And I sold my friend two lovely young hens, and I think that was a win for everyone (and everybird) involved.

Nothin' like takin' home a souvenir

After they left, I nursed the baby and fed my kids and braced myself. Hubby was still not home, and I wasn't going to have used so much propane and water for two measly (and they are SO scrawny, these standard-breed young roosters!) birds. The rest of the crew in the garden cart were still waiting patiently. We brought Organique's playpen out (because if the Fancy Neighbors didn't think we were total barbarians yet, we wanted to set their minds at rest), and improvised the death of a few more. I managed to kill, scald, pick, and clean five more beasts before the painful knots in my back became too much. The girls, meanwhile, played with the chicken heads like they usually do with their My Little Ponies (they're interchangeable, aren't they, children's toys and chicken heads?). Then they'd bury them and dig them up and poke their eyes, because, "those boys did that..." Oh my.

So, after an exhausting day (in many ways), I managed to put seven skinny chickens in my freezer, which is not near enough. I'm hoping Hubby can participate more next time and give it a go again next weekend. I REFUSE to buy any more turkey feed, and this last bag better put some fat under their skin, or we'll just have scrawny turkeys in the freezer too.

But - all in all - it was a milestone of a day (albeit one I wasn't aspiring to). If I have to go it alone again though, I'm rigging up a mini guillotine.


Rachel said...

Hey, congrats on getting through it. Even if you didn't want to, at least you know you CAN!

The image of little girls playing with chicken heads makes me laugh, especially when compared with My Little Ponies! Ha!

Meghann said...

love it! thank you for the wonderful account of your day...made me smile (which is very needed as of late!).

home handymum said...

Oh Oh Oh

I am just in the planning stage of getting chickens and this is SO much the part that I'm not looking forward to.

perhaps I'll just turn our place into a home for geriatric chickens...

annie said...

Will it hurt your feelings if I told you that as soon as I realized where this was heading, I skipped to the end?

I am proud of you. Queasy, but proud.

You're a better woman than me.

EllaJac said...

Handymum, it's definitely something you have to work into. The first year (turkeys), I didn't do much. It was a real trial. The next year it was a bit easier, and now I can do it (but don't plan to do the killing part when possible!).

Annie, I actually thought of you as I wrote this. You're quite excused from reading the gorey details. :)

And truly, "doing in" the first two was easier, because I was in the 'end it, now!' mode. The subsequent ones were much more difficult.

MamaJ said...

Oh my!! I soooo wish I could have seen all that! How funny.